Spotlight Series Interview: Teri Suddard

Join us for the next in our Spotlight Series as Nate Hagerty interviews Teri Suddard, a lifetime Delaware tax firm owner about how she’s pivoted to changing market conditions over the years, including the quick fixes she implemented to make this 2020 pandemic-impacted tax season successful despite its limitations. She’s enjoying the benefits that email marketing and local listings optimization have provided her in recent years and is already making some specific adjustments for next tax season.

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  • How Teri got into her business and grew it over changing seasons and markets.
  • Her experience with AdvisorProMarketer.
  • How she handled this pandemic tax season.

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This episode is brought to you by AdvisorProMarketer, a leading marketing agency serving CPA & tax firms. It was established in May of 2007 in response to increased demand for real-world, relationship-building (and profit-producing) marketing tools for use in the advisory industry.

Currently, AdvisorProMarketer serves clients all across the United States and Canada who use their services to build relationships with their prospects & existing clients, as well as to grow the value of their business (for immediate cashflow and future sale-ability) by utilizing the following tools: a relational email marketing program, social media feed program, local listings management & optimization, and creating full “online marketing machines” for clients (which include SEO-optimized, conversion-centric custom websites).

AdvisorProMarketer is an Infusionsoft Certified Partner and a Digital Marketer Certified Agency.

Full Transcript from the Podcast

Nate Hagerty  00:05

All right. Hello everybody, Nate Hagerty here CEO AdvisorProMarketer, and I am thrilled to have our client Teri Suddard with us. And she is joining us from Delaware and is here to tell a little bit of her story of how she got into her business, what she’s working on now, kind of what our experience has been with AdvisorProMarketer and whatnot. But what I like to ask people, Teri, at the beginning of these kinds of interviews, what are you all working on right now? This is just after the extension deadline, as we’re talking, it’s late, mid to late October. What are you and your team working on? Like this week?

Teri Suddard  00:43

Actually, we’re looking forward to the coming tax season, how we’re going to deal with all the COVID that’s going on, I’m actually working with my IT person to set up remote access for my employees who don’t want to have to work in the office-

Nate Hagerty  01:05

For the coming tax season, did you all set up?

Teri Suddard  01:07

For the coming tax season, yeah, so I did have a setup for a few people already in place, but we’re beefing up the security. We’re looking into buying some more laptops because there are some more opportunities now for people to work from home. And also just setting up our offices to deal with people coming in to drop off to pick up most of my office, I have a big open reception area with a person that was sitting in that area. So-

Nate Hagerty  01:44

Tell me about this past tax season, the donkey of 2020, as I like to call it, how did you all handle that? What was it like for you with clients? You’re all in Delaware, things were pretty locked down throughout the summer, I imagine, and are they still fairly locked down?

Teri Suddard  02:03

Actually, Delaware is open, we just, we have the mask requirement that if you go into a business, you have to wear a mask. There are restrictions on restaurants and bars. I have a hair salon next to me they’re restricted on their occupancy but Delaware is open. But we, I have a lot of prepares who are older over 65 and they don’t want to sit with people. So we set out really are not doing much of that at all we’re working through drop off.

Nate Hagerty  02:37

Did you see the remote office setup training that we had in our members’ area that our friend Andy Frye put out there? Did you get connected to that?

Teri Suddard  02:44

I did not see that but we do have a remote setup already in place. We go remotely with a lot of our clients like we already had that, fortunately, that piece in place.

Nate Hagerty  02:57

Well, good. So the COVID season, the COVID tax season, how did that affect your clients and your client base? I mean, what did you see? With like, how that impacted your business?

Teri Suddard  03:13

Well, March was very strange, because we’re usually swamped in March and in the middle of March, everything just kind of stopped. But we did communicate with clients, your emails were great. I do use your email blasts on a regular basis, and especially during this past tax season, they were so helpful. 

Nate Hagerty  03:33

Well, good. 

Teri Suddard  03:33

Had so many questions about what was going on but our people really adapted quite well. I was fortunate that my seasonal employees, a number of them stayed on part-time after their usual April 15 deadline. So we were extremely busy in July, that second deadline, but I really did not see a big decline in business people. 

Nate Hagerty  03:59

That’s great. I actually have your data here. I’m going to put it up on the video. Let me see if we can show this. Because I thought it was interesting. Can you see that? Right now, Teri? And I think people who might be watching the video could see it. So this is from the time period of the beginning of January through September, right up until obviously not until the full extension deadline. But as you’re seeing here, the search impressions, things actually, you know, got a lot of phone calls in March, and things kind of slowed down. And then September was quiet. August was quiet. I imagine October was really busy. I think you told me or my team that you got a lot of calls right up until the exception deadlines. All right.

Teri Suddard  04:55

We did. Yes.

Nate Hagerty  04:57

Yeah, but year over year that’s what this is kind of showing here. It looks like your actions, your phone calls your direction requests all up. Like your phone calls up almost 400% from Google My Business, your direction requests over 200%, your search impressions 180%, your Discovery Search impressions, and direct search impressions. So do you know the difference between the discovery and the direct search?

Teri Suddard  05:30

I do not.

Nate Hagerty  05:31

So the Discovery Search is when people are looking for a keyword like Tax Service, and they find your business or they go to your listing or your website. And a direct search is where they’ll look up National Income Tax Service, you know, or Teri Saddurd, something like that, and they go to you and it looks like, it probably helps that your name is so connected to like, I have a keyword in it Tax Service, that actually really helps you probably in your search engine optimization, but it looks like your search impressions and your general online traffic has just gone up a lot. But backing up, I want to hear your story you apparently took over this is your father founded this company. Is that right?

Teri Suddard  06:20

It did. My father started this company in 1965 in the basement of his house in New York, and he grew it to, we had franchise offices at one point. Most of those have owners have retired some of them we bought back the businesses, others were sold. But yeah, he retired in 1997 and I have been president since then.

Nate Hagerty  06:52

Did you work with him like right out of school and kind of work in the business the whole time?

Teri Suddard  06:56

I did my senior year in college, I took a tax course and worked for one of our competitors while I was in school. At my father’s request. I didn’t have a job for six months out of college before I came to work for him. But I have been working for this company pretty much my whole adult life

Nate Hagerty  07:17

That college education that your dad paid for didn’t really impact. But that tax course.

Teri Suddard  07:24

The tax course I did it for sure.

Nate Hagerty  07:27

That’s wonderful. So you’ve been in the business then for quite a while and you’ve been running it, gosh, for almost 25 years now. Since 1997. Wow. So what kind of changes have you seen since, you know, the last, since the shift online? I mean, how did you guys get clients? pre-online days? What was your primary marketing?

Teri Suddard  07:51

Our primary marketing was direct mailing? advertising in the newspaper, we always had a very good referral business, and we still get a lot of referrals. But yeah, the business, I feel like it kind of ran itself until the rails stopped. 

Nate Hagerty  08:13


Teri Suddard  08:14

We do a big round business because we’re- …in town.

Nate Hagerty  08:17

Right And that was about like, 2010 or so. 11. Yeah.

Teri Suddard  08:23

2010/11. Yeah, 

Nate Hagerty  08:26

So you have to pivot?

Teri Suddard  08:27

I did. Once that happened, the business started declining. And I realized I had to do something different to keep this going. And I started with a technology conference that was in Atlantic City, just to see all the new vendors or what was going on. And with that, I got hooked up with Adam software, which I’m still using still love that software. But that makes it very easy to work remotely with our clients.

Nate Hagerty  08:56

Yeah, Mark Preco is an awesome man. So you guys have multiple locations, to be clear-

Teri Suddard  09:02

Yeah three offices 

Nate Hagerty  09:04

Three offices and you work with a similar kind of clientele in each office? Or are there different kinds of focuses in each office works?

Teri Suddard  09:14

Yeah, we do have an office in downtown Wilmington. So that focus is a little bit different. We’re still doing a lot of bank products there. It’s simpler returns, you know, the more basic earned income credit type things and then our New York office kind of runs the gamut but we have some very complicated returns her, we do business returns also here. And then I have an office in Middletown, Delaware, which is a more suburban type.

Nate Hagerty  09:48

And so you’re able to manage the different, you know, staffing and workflows from your laptop with ADAM which is an awesome thing. I should tell Mark that you’re giving him a great shout out here. I’m sure he’ll be excited to hear that. Yeah, that’s a great software, especially for a multi-location seasonal tax business, I highly recommended Adam for since he built it and I knew Mark back when he only had, you know, a few hundred clients and now his business has thousands and thousands. So that’s awesome. So you pivoted to kind of a different approach with more of a white-collar focus with your clientele, what did that look like? How did you guys pull that? Moving away from the route?

Teri Suddard  10:40

Well… Yeah, I actually started trying every year to go to some kind of conference or symposium. So I started networking with other tax preparers. That’s also how I hooked up with your firm, you were at one of those museums that I went to where I met Christian. We really didn’t necessarily try and change the focus of who we were marketing too but I did have opportunities in the last five years, I purchased two other tax businesses, which worked out really well. One was actually somebody who used to work for me about 20 years ago, went out on his own. And then when he retired again, I kept in touch with him and I purchased his business. And another one I did was just a friend of mine from church, who wanted to get out of his tax business and do something else. So-

Nate Hagerty  11:39

That’s a fantastic way to grow. Now, did you do anything with the client base there to move them into other services to somehow like, do more, or just, were you just kind of getting the book of business and kind of integrated that into your regular flow.

Teri Suddard  11:55

Yeah. We just took their book of business and integrated it into ours, both practices were very similar to mine, just the type of clients that we had, and the type of work that we were doing. So it worked out very well. 

Nate Hagerty  12:14

That’s great. So what now, 2020 will be in 2021, what do your clients tell you? I mean, do you have a sense of why your clients choose to work with you versus every other option available to them? You know, in the Newark, Wilmington, Delaware area?

Teri Suddard  12:37

Yeah, I’ve worked very hard and I have a wonderful year-round team, I have friends or women that worked for me year-round. And my seasonal preparers, most of them have been with me for five to 10 years minimum. And we really work as a cohesive team, to give the best service that we can where everybody, we educate each other, we educate our clients. And I found that that’s the biggest feedback that I get from clients positive feedback is we’re very knowledgeable, we take the time to explain things. They can understand their tax situation, we try and give them advice on how to be, you know, improve their financial situation when we see opportunities.

Nate Hagerty  13:27

Right. So how do AdvisorProMarketer services fit into the mix for you all? I mean, you mentioned that email marketing, you know, what does that look like for you? And I mean, are you sending it to a few dozen few hundred, you know, more than that clients? What do you prospects? What do you with the email marketing side?

Teri Suddard  13:47

I am sending that to all of my personal clients that I have an email address for I don’t do it with the business clients yet. But I do send it to all our individual clients. And every time I send that out, I get back multiple responses. They’re always positive.

Nate Hagerty  14:08

That’s great!

Teri Suddard  14:10

Yeah, the last one I sent out that you did was asking for Google reviews and we’ve gotten, I started to use this week from happy clients.

Nate Hagerty  14:19

You should! That’s good. Yeah, I noticed. I mean, your clients love you, Teri, and we love working with people like you, who just care deeply about their clients and serving them well and have that mentality to just serve their clients while they’re not in it to you know, go buy a yacht somewhere, although we all want to earn more revenue and make money of course, but you take what we do and you wisely integrate it into what you’re already doing. And you have a heart of a servant and you let us do some of the heavy liftings behind the scene so you don’t have to mess with it. And that’s, I mean that warms my heart. It’s always fun to talk to people like you, who are just in the trenches with small business owners and families that are panicking through this whole chaos. I mean, tell me about that. I mean, when you met with your clients during tax season, what was the feeling like? I mean, were people taking things in stride? Were they panicked? I mean, what was the general flavor of your clientele?

Teri Suddard  15:30

I think people were confused and nervous about what was happening. The whole thing with the stimulus checks coming out, everybody was, you know, anxious to get those. And we answered a lot of phone calls. And yeah, being able to send out the emails as updates came out about those was wonderful because we did our phone was ringing off the hook. And that’s probably part of the reason our search numbers went up to that. People were looking for somebody to talk to because you couldn’t talk to the IRS, you know

Nate Hagerty  16:05

Yes. Indeed, yeah. It was quite a year, I mean, every tax pro that I spoke to have a similar story, it was super intense. Well, what’s next for you and your business? I mean, where do you see, you know, your company going, you know, what’s your end goal? Exit plan, like, where are you taking this thing?

Teri Suddard  16:35

So I really think that COVID is going to change the way that we operate, and the way that we meet with clients and communicate with clients. A lot of my clients thought they had to come in and sit with a preparer, and they were actually happy just to drop stuff off. And, you know, come back and get it when it’s done. So I think we will be working even after COVID a lot more in a remote fashion with clients. 

Nate Hagerty  17:05

Yeah. Do you have clients that just upload things to a portal and you deal with it there? And then, yep.

Teri Suddard  17:11

Yeah. I have people I’ve never met. That just does it through the portal. I’ve clients from all over the country.

Nate Hagerty  17:21

So that’s wonderful, Teri. If you could kind of speak to other tax professionals, maybe people who are thinking about creating an online marketing strategy for their business? You know, about AdvisorProMarketer, what would you say? I mean, obviously, this is a little tricky, because you’re talking to me, so, you’re biased. But, you know, be fully honest. What would you say to somebody who’s considering using tax for marketing services?

Teri Suddard  17:56

Well, I would say, you know, if you want an online presence, you can’t do it yourself. That is not my specialty. I tried to do it before I met you guys. I tried a couple of different agencies to do some social media postings, and it just, it wasn’t really helping much. I really have kind of the complete package and you stay on top of it. Like there are things going out all the time. So you know, I’m always present on Facebook. I’m probably present on Twitter, but I don’t have that. I don’t look at that one.

Nate Hagerty  18:33

That’s okay.

Teri Suddard  18:34

But yeah, just I mean, I know that Google search engines are doing a wonderful job for me, because I know the phone rings off the hook and people say they found us on Google.

Nate Hagerty  18:46

Well, that’s good. Thank you, Teri, for that. And I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. tell your story a little bit for this kind of client spotlight series that we’ve been doing. And I’m really thankful that we get to serve people like you who have the hardest servant and who lead their team well, and lead their clients well. So thank you so much, Teri. God bless you. 

Teri Suddard  19:09

You’re welcome. You too.

Nate Hagerty  19:11